Lore (2023)

Lore had its world première on Thurs 24th Aug at FrightFest

Four friends who regularly attend weekend events together – Mark (Dean Bone), Dan (Miles Mitchell), Donna (Sally Collett) and Sally (Samatha Neale) – get a bit lost as they hike to a ‘creepy forest’. They are greeted by their host Darwin (the ever amazing Richard Brake), whose unnerving grin, coupled with his intensity, suggests that the fun, frightening experience for which this quartet – and viewers – have signed up may already have started, as though an invisible boundary between the worlds of reality and myth has been passed. 

Lore is all about storytelling. Darwin begins by telling his four guests a local legend about the many thousands of bodies that have been recently recovered near their woodland campsite, and the ancient evil that has been dwelling there since long before humanity arrived. He then encourages each of them, one after the other, to throw a wooden totem on the fire and, as it burns, to tell “a story that you fear, a fable that haunts you” – all supposedly as a means “to communicate with the dead.”

This is the frame for an anthology, as their stories will be realised on screen, leading to an unexpected and involuted comeback. And while all four episodes differ greatly in theme and tone, each – like the campfire wraparound that contains them – involves an irruption of the irrational into reality. All are directed by varying permutations of James Bushe, Patrick Michael Ryder and Greig Johnson, sometimes co-writing with Christine Barber-Ryder. 

In Mark’s story Shadows, Daniel (Andrew Lee Potts) is pursued by a pair of thuggish debt collectors (Daniel John-Williams, Steven Blades) into a studio warehouse, only to witness a murderous monster emerging from the darkness to do what Daniel himself has never had the courage to do. In Dan’s story The Hidden Woman, as a mother (Jennifer K. Preston) and her young son (Theo Preston) clean out grandma’s house after her death, they find themselves sharing the space with a ghostly ballerina (Jordaine Lincoln) who does not take kindly to her antiques being disturbed. 

In Donna’s story Cross Your Heart, an odious, abusive, adulterous Steve (Rufus Hound) drags his wife Cath (Katie Sheridan) to a cheap hotel to meet a pair of swingers (Alana Wallace, Jamie Lynch), and is made to realise and repay in kind the sacrifices that his wife has had to make for him. And the final story The Keychain Man from Sally, who is herself an author, features not only the metacinematic premise of a disgruntled cineplex worker (Finbar Healy) snapping, donning a Halloween mask, and brutally taking out colleagues (Davey Hopper, Greig Johnson, Sammy T. Dobson) and patrons (Jacob Anderton, Sarah Lewis Obuba, Christopher Mulvin) one by one, but also a surprise ending that returns Sally’s characters (themselves horror filmgoers), her campfire audience, and us viewers, to a different kind of real-world horror.

The slippage between fantasy and reality will turn out to be bi-directional, as the coda suggests a universe where anyone’s everyday situation might readily be storied and invaded with little warning by monster, ghost, folk ritual, slasher, or who knows what. Here, much as one tale leads to another, fear too begets more fear, and there is always something out there that bloodily wants in, or someone who wants to make your life a little scarier.   

strap: James Bushe, Patrick Michael Ryder and Greig Johnson’s framed anthology sees ordinary, real lives storied into horror

© Anton Bitel